March Madness – (16) Hampton, (16) Manhattan Kick-Off Tourney

(16) Hampton Pirates vs. (16) Manhattan Jaspers (-7.5)

Two No. 16 seeds – the Hampton Pirates (16-17, 8-8 MEAC) and (16) Manhattan Jaspers (19-13, 13-7 MAAC) – will square off Tuesday night for the honor of being demolished by No. 1 overall seed Kentucky on Thursday in Louisville.

Despite the looming David vs. Goliath game that awaits, both the Pirates and Jaspers are excited to be in the tournament.

For Hampton, this marks the first time since 2011 that the team cracked the March Madness field. They earned the opportunity this weekend after surprising the entire MEAC as the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament.

After a mediocre 8-8 season in conference play, Hampton and head coach Edward Joyner Jr. found a way to run the table without injured leading scorer and rebounder Dwight Meikle.

“All’s well that ends well,” Joyner said after his team downed Delaware State, 81-62, in the final. “For the fourth straight game, we looked like a team.”

Reginald Johnson and Brian Darden were huge for the Pirates in the title game, scoring 20 points each, while Deron Powers added 16.

“I feel like it was just poise,” Powers said. “I felt like in crunch time, we didn’t make as many mistakes.”

For the Jaspers, it’s déjà vu all over again. Last season, head coach Steve Masiello not only led Manhattan to the NCAA Tournament, but nearly upset Louisville in the second round, losing 71-64.

Then, the former Kentucky Wildcat was set to become the next head coach of the South Florida Bulls, but it was discovered he didn’t have his degree (which contradicted his resume).

Masiello quickly returned to Manhattan, where he once again led his team back to the tourney. ”Now when you’re here, the things you kind of stressed about last year, you learn to appreciate and enjoy this year,” Masiello said of his return to the Jaspers.

Both teams come into the tournament on four-game win streaks. Despite Manhattan’s unique story, Hampton is 7-0 ATS on the season, which is why the Pirates and the points (+7.5) is the play.

(Photo credit: Trollness (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)

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